Here we are. The 2019 NFL Playoffs are upon us, Bills Mafia, and with it comes the new season of hope for 12 teams and their fan bases. While other organizations are preparing for free agency, getting the bowl games scouted for draft prospects, or slogging through yet another head coach or general manager hiring process, the suddenly stable Buffalo Bills are still playing meaningful football.
The drought has been broken and the “happy to be here” 2017 Bills are no more. This team wants to break “the new drought” and win a playoff game for the first time since 1995. The Houston Texans are a good football team that deserves to be in the postseason, but they can be beaten and the Bills have an opportunity to play another meaningful football game in the AFC Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs.
How can Buffalo see to it that they leave Houston with the Texans’ season pinned to their jet like a trophy? I have some thoughts...
We don’t know if Fuller is playing but prepare like he is
At the time of this writing, nobody knows if Texans WR2 Will Fuller will play on Saturday. A report from James Palmer of NFL Network indicated Fuller will be “a game time decision” and it is going to be “a real long shot for (him) to play”.
Fuller is dangerous enough that the Bills should prepare as if he is.
On this week’s episode of “The Nick and Nolan Show” I picked the Bills to win this game in significant part because I don’t think Fuller will play in this game. In the 22 games Deshaun Watson has played with Will Fuller, he has 8.69 yards per attempt and a 7.1% touchdown percentage. In the 17 games played without Fuller, Watson has 6.99 yard per attempt and 3.9% touchdown percentage. The potential drop off to not having him on the field will be notable.
Now knowing that Fuller is very important to the success of the Texans’ passing game, how best to prepare as if he is playing? The Bills are not known for drastically altering their scheme or coverage assignments, so I wouldn’t expect to see Tre’Davious White shadowing Fuller and doubling primary Texans receiver and superstar De’Andre Hopkins, for example, even though I would understand if they did. More than likely they’ll let White do what White has done, but I would suggest not playing Levi Wallace over Fuller without safety help. Wallace is not the most fleet of foot, and between Watson’s massively improved deep-ball accuracy since coming into the league and Fuller’s world-class speed, a big play down the field could change the complexity of the game.
Part of this may be moot because we still don’t know if Levi Wallace will be healthy and ready to go on Saturday any more so than we know about Fuller’s health, but an already-vertically challenged corner with a bad ankle needs safety help against a player of Fuller’s health, even if Fuller’s groin is causing him to be less than 100% explosive.
Intermediate passing, RPOs, and zone read to attack aggressive linebackers
The Houston Texans are...not good at defending intermediate passes to the middle of the field, which happens to be Josh Allen’s specialty. According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders (Bills Mafia might recognize that name), Houston gave up a league-worst 83% completion percentage in “short middle” passes along with a gaudy 10.8 yards per pass.
The Texans’ inside linebackers Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are solid NFL players, but they’re markedly better against the run and they’re very good at being where they need to be with run fits. One thing that can help get them out of position to allow the run game to succeed is mesh work through RPOs and zone read. Having Josh get out and make some plays with his feet early in the game might help calm down the admitted “jitters” he has experienced in some big games this year and find intermediate slant work to Cole Beasley (or even Duke Williams if he’s active) can get McKinney and Cunningham out of position and keep them guessing.
It should be noted that Josh Allen’s work at the mesh point has been particularly sloppy this year and concerns about ball handling are present. Let’s hope he’s been working on it enough to do well in this space on the big stage.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!